It has been a tradition to have the image of the Child Jesus visit his parents before his grand day. The icon leaves his home in the Basilica del Sto. Niño, which is in the heart of Cebu City and is paraded to his foster father in the St. Joseph Parish in Mandaue City, another city next to his domicile. A great number of dynamic and lively devotees will be following the infant as he make his way once a year to visit his father Joseph.
The Niño stays with his father for a day and a night while believers from nearby cities and municipalities can join in with the Jesus celebration and have a vigil in the parish. After the overnight stay with his father, he will be voyaging his way to his mother in a nearby island in Lapu-Lapu. The ceremonies in Cebu begin with this early morning fluvial procession, re-enacting the coming of the Spaniards. The Holy Child Jesus is usually kept in a glass case bedecked with blossoming flowers, which will be carried by a “galleon” towards his destination.
The sound of drums beating and trumpets roaring in the early hours of the morning would not affect the solemnity of the ritual. Fireworks, ship’s bullhorns, sirens and yells from the Sto. Nino devotees add vibrance to the decorated motorboats sailing under the brilliant sun. Air Force helicopters from Mactan Air Base and other private planes will be hovering above and showering petals in the flotilla, which include motorized bancas, passenger boats, yachts, barges and fastcrafts.
The Sinulog Festival is a Philippine festival which honours the Sto. Niño. It takes place in Cebu in January over a 9-day period, coming to a climax on the 3rd Sunday of January. The main highlights of the festival include a religious procession which takes place on the last Saturday, a high Mass wherein the traditional Sinulog dance is performed and a large street celebration on Sunday to culminate the fiesta.
The word sinulog comes from a Cebuano word meaning, “like the movement of water currents.” The name is a reference to the forward-backward steps in the Sinulog dance; the rhythmic motion is reminiscent of the movement of the eddies of Cebu’s old Pahina River. The dancers basically take two steps forward and one step backward to the beat of a drum. The dance is traditionally performed mostly by elderly women.
Before the coming of the Spaniards, the Sinulog was already being danced by the early Filipinos of Cebu in honor of their anitos.
When Ferdinand Magellan came to Cebu in 1521, Rajah Humabon, his wife Amihan, and some 800 natives chose to be baptized as Catholics. Magellan gave the Sto. Niño to Rajah Humabon’s wife, baptized as Juana, as a baptismal gift. This event not only introduced the Sto. Niño to the people of Cebu but was the foundation for its significance to the early Cebuanos:. A representation of Queen Juana, holding the Sto. Niño and blessing her subjects to ward away sickness and evil spirits, became an important part of the Sinulog dance. When Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and his men arrived in Cebu in 1565 and razed the village ruled by Rajah Tupas, a soldier named Juan Camus discovered a box with the image of the Sto. Niño surrounded by flowers, amidst some native anito figures. This signifies to historians that the transition from dancing the Sinulog to worship the anitos to dancing it in homage to the Sto. Niño occurred within the 44 years between the arrival of Magellan and Legazpi.
With Legazpi were some friars of the Augustinian order. They declared that the statue was miraculous and founded a church on the site where it was discovered, which they named the San Agustin Church. The name was eventually changed to Basilica Minore del Santo Niño. Devotion to the Sto. Niño has survived and grown in Philippine culture over the centuries, especially in the Visayas region. Pilgrims from all over the Philippines as well as Cebu go to the Basilica every year to participate in the procession and festival.
In 1980, the local government of Cebu City began taking charge of organizing the Sinulog festival. David S. Odilao, Jr., then Regional Director of the Ministry of Sports and Youth Development, organized a group of students and taught them to dance the Sinulog to the beating of drums, then had them dress up in moro-moro costumes to participate in the first Sinulog parade. With the success of this first organized Sinulog festival, the event was designated as a yearly one by then mayor of Cebu City Florentino S. Solon.
The Cebu City Historical Committee was tasked to execute a Sinulog event every year. In different parts of Cebu, smaller versions of this festival can also be seen. The commercialization of this festival has made Cebu a top tourist destination in January. A fluvial procession is usually held the day before the grand celebration. This is part of the tradition of bringing the Sto. Niño to pay a visit to his parents in different parishes in Cebu. The icon is brought by a procession of devotees from the Basilica in Cebu City to St. Joseph Parish in Mandaue City to visit his foster father two days before the main fiesta.
He remains there overnight. Many people from Mandaue and the surrounding communities come to the church for a vigil during this period. The next day, early in the morning, the Child Jesus is brought to his mother in one of the islands of Lapu-Lapu close by in a reenactment of the coming of the Spaniards. The image is placed in a glass case bedecked with flowers and brought to the island by a watercraft representing a galleon.The solemn procession of motorboats is heralded by the fanfare of trumpets, the beating of drums, fireworks, ship’s horns, sirens, and the cries of devotees. Petals are showered from the sky by Air Force helicopters from Mactan Air Base and charter planes. Finally the processional boats are docked at the Cebu City wharf and the image is carried back to Basilica, where the Christianization of Cebu is re-enacted.
The procession, organized by the Augustinians, begins in the church the afternoon when the image is restored to the Basilica following the fluvial procession. There are millions of pilgrims and devotees of the Sto. Niño who take part in the procession, carrying lighted candles and holy rosaries. The candle vendors at the Basilica perform the traditional Sinulog dance, accompanied by native songs, as they light candles for their customers. As they walk, they give the responses to the rosary, which is recited in different languages. The route of the solemn procession varies depending on the estimated number of participants. Different barangays are visited each year.
The procession ends by returning to the Basilica for a pontifical mass given by the cCardinal, assisted by some of the bishops of Cebu. The Sinulog dance is performed immediately after the Mass by those who wish to ask for petitions. It is believed that dancing the Sinulog in homage to the Sto. Niño following the procession, candle in hand, will help one’s prayers to be answered. Finally after the Mass the worshippers go out to watch the grand parade.